An Ever-Green Friday Bazaar

While International organizations are still struggling to come to a consensus on ways to reduce our carbon foot print and pave way for sustainable development, some of the traditional practices followed by our communities are setting examples on this front that call for everyone’s attention. The ideas of reuse and recycle find manifestation in a century old Friday Bazaar or Sandhai (in Tamil) that is organized on every Friday at Pallavaram in the outskirts of Chennai.

Being a resident of Pallavaram, I have been a regular visitor to this bazaar since my childhood. However, I never saw it from the perspective of its contribution to reducing and reusing the city’s waste before I joined Transparent Chennai’s project on solid waste management. Eager to learn more about this century old weekly market, my colleague Pradeepan and I visited it one Friday. We even ascended the nearby Pallavaram hill to get a bird’s eye view of the bazaar in the morning. It was an amazing spectacle; to view the whole stretch of the road, filled with jostling crowds and rows of stalls sheltered under blue and yellow plastic sheet pandals on either side of the road. The entire bazaar stretched for a kilometer starting from Pallavaram railway station at one end to Trisulam railway station at the other. There must have been at least 1000 stalls selling a variety of goods to eager shoppers on that day.

On enquiry we learnt that this weekly bazaar in Pallavaram had started functioning from as early as the 1800s, when traders brought cattle from different places to sell to the soldiers of the British-Indian army settled in the nearby areas. As years passed the bazaar expanded and started selling a variety of goods to the British as well as to the locals. Till recently the Friday bazaar was conducted in an open ground under the control of Pallavaram Cantonment but with the Department of Atomic Energy acquiring the land the bazaar had to be moved to its current location. This shift has only brought good to this bazaar as it helped draw more attention from the public and increased its patronage.

It is no wonder that people from various places have been coming regularly to this bazaar for decades. They can buy almost anything they want from the bazaar at throw away prices and people who can draw a good bargain stand to gain handsomely. As one customer says “one can get anything from this bazaar except for one’s father and mother”. Our day long visit to this market made us realize that such high praise for this market stands true and is not a mere exaggeration. There are a variety of items from cloths to cattle; pets to pen-drives; mobile phones to motorcycles; detergents to DVDs; food stuffs to electronic items; table fans to air-coolers and air-conditioners; lamps, laptops, fruits, fresh vegetables, flower pots, furniture, antiques, an array of household appliances and what not. The most interesting thing to note is that most of the goods are second-hand and people get them at throwaway prices and the poor and middle class feel it to be a boon to them.

Most of the people visiting the bazaar are there to buy second hand goods which are not only cheaper but also in working condition. I too have fond memories of having bought a Panasonic cordless phone for just Rs.100 and it lasted for a whole year after changing its battery. Aside from households and members of the general public, this bazaar also draws professional electricians and mechanics from different places who are looking for spare parts for doing repair works. One vendor reports, “We often have customers looking for parts and accessories for their gadgets that they otherwise could not get from elsewhere”. There are also many engineering students who come to the bazaar looking for hardware to feed their curiosity to explore and experiment with them for their projects and coursework. This bazaar is also a treasure trove for those who love antiques; many people visit the bazaar every week in the hope of finding something precious. The bazaar also caters to the poor who come here to buy old flex boards, old doors and tarpaulin sheets to repair their houses. We observed buyers and sellers not only from all over Chennai but from places as far as Villupuram, Pondycherry, Kancheepuram, and Tiruvallur. As a vendor said, “We come from Chitoor district in Andhra Pradesh to get stuff from here and we sell it in our areas for better rates”.

The vendors who put their stalls in this market come from very diverse sectors. Some of them are raddiwallahs, who collect the goods from households throughout the week and bring them to sell in this market on Fridays. People who own old paper marts also spread out their wares here to sell their collections. Mr.Ganesh, a seller of second-hand furniture said that he sourced his goods through online sites like OLX, Quikr, Justdial etc. There are also people belonging to indigenous communities who earn their living by selling their collectibles and items like beads and jewellery operating in the market.

Technically, every week hundreds of kilograms of e-waste, plastics, fibres, metals and other wastes are being brought to this bazaar and sold, things which would otherwise have ended up filling the dumpyards. Thus this contributes immensely to the reuse and recycling of precious resources which is an important factor for reducing our carbon footprint and also a solution in disguise to the problem of waste management. This weekly bazaar is a good example to showcase how the informal sector contributes to sustainable waste management, something that often goes unnoticed. It is also remarkable for the benefits that it offers to the poor in terms of livelihood opportunities while at the same time helping the locals by offering them useful consumer goods at affordable prices. If working models on resource management like these are identified and promoted then it would become easier for cities to manage their waste sustainably. The draft sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations which are slated to succeed the millennium development goals (MDGs) post 2015 envisage that by 2030 countries should substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction and reuse[1]. Community driven working models like the Pallavaram Weekly Bazaar would help immensely to achieve these if replicated elsewhere in its true spirit.

A bird\'s eye view of the busy bazaar roadJostling crowds in the bazaar.First come! First Served! Curious customers waiting to grab their favourites.A customer is checking the working condition of a generator before buying.Curious eyes looking at antiques that are on display.People of indigenous communities selling their collectibles in the bazaar.The bazaar offers livelihood opportunities for the indigenous communitites.These are used tyres that would otherwise have filled the dump yards.Electronic gadgets like mobile phones are sold at throwaway prices.A cupboard being transported to its new homeTVs, LCDs, home theatres, laptops and what not, you get anything in the bazaar.People who can draw a good bargain stand to gain handsomely.Can you believe these are second-hand products that are up for resale?The bazaar is a treasure trove to people looking for old music albums.Rain or shine the bazaar will not disappoint its customers.A lady selling home-made phenyl and detergents.These are products sold in the bazaar that are otherwise not affordable to the poor.

Written by Vijay Senthil Kumar, researcher, Transparent Chennai


[1]Web Reference: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/focussdgs.html